Saturday, September 24, 2022

Reporting From Alaska- Bill Walker on a fiscal plan, energy prices, PFDs, salmon, privacy and more


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Former Gov. Bill Walker opposes a constitutional convention, supports the ranked choice voting system, would consider taxes as a part of a complete fiscal plan, accepts the science that humans contribute to climate change and believes that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Walker provided those answers and more to the questionnaire that four Alaska news organizations plan to incorporate into an online candidate comparison tool. While we await the completion of that online tool, I believe it’s important to see where the major candidates stand.

I have also posted the answers from former Rep. Les Gara.

Walker sent me his completed questionnaire and I provide the answers below. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has refused to have his campaign submit answers to previous questionnaires, claiming that he has answered every important question in the past, which is laughable.

Walker answered the “yes/no” questions as described in the first paragraph. Here are the open-ended questions and his answers.

Why are you running for governor?

Bill Walker: I was born in Fairbanks, raised in Valdez, and have seen many changes in my lifetime in Alaska. Our state was built by leaders with a vision and the political courage to carry it out, and we need to get back to those roots.

I will rebuild trust in leadership by always being honest with Alaskans. I will also rebuild our state in a literal sense: submitting a full fiscal plan to the Legislature, addressing the childcare shortfall, investing in education and the ferry system, confronting the affordable housing crisis, stabilizing our economy, creating opportunities for growth across our state, and getting the most out of the historic federal infrastructure investment.

My running mate, Heidi Drygas, is also Fairbanks born and raised. She’s a former Democrat, and I’m a former Republican. We set aside our party labels to form a Unity Ticket to bring common sense decision-making back to Juneau. Above all, we are two Alaskans working to make it so our children and grandchildren have the same opportunities we did.

The current governor has no vision beyond his next election. He was elected by making big promises he knew he couldn’t keep, and he has torn down our schools and university system, ferries, and countless other institutions that took generations to build up. Alaska needs to get our economy on track and create a positive future, but right now we have a governor who runs from tough decisions and looks to others for leadership instead of stepping up. Alaska deserves better.

How will you balance the state’s budget?

Bill Walker: Relying on wars in Europe to boost the price of oil is not a fiscal plan. Before oil prices collapse again, we need to know how we will pay for teachers, public safety, and transportation every year.

In 2015, shortly after I was elected, oil prices plummeted from nearly $100 a barrel down to $26 a barrel and remained low for years. The result was a $4 billion deficit. We assembled more than 200 Alaskans from across the state to the “Build a Sustainable Future” summit at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We stayed in dorms, and all options were explored with the public and media looking on. Our cabinet members also fanned out across the state and gave nearly 500 community presentations about the problem and listened for possible solutions.

Following that thorough process, we submitted a full fiscal plan to the Legislature that aimed to get us completely away from the rollercoaster ride of oil prices. While some elements did not pass, the most significant piece of the plan was adopted by a bipartisan vote: the Permanent Fund Protection Act (establishing a Percent of Market Value system) reduced the state’s reliance on the price of oil from 90% to 30%. As a result, 70% of state budget revenue now comes from a sustainable draw from the Permanent Fund earnings.

This sort of intensive public engagement – combined with leadership from the governor and a willingness to make tough decisions – is how we will complete the fiscal plan and end this chapter of economic uncertainty.

How should Alaska Permanent Fund dividends be set?

Bill Walker: The dividend is a critical piece of the fabric of Alaska’s economy. Alaskans use it to offset the high cost of living, buy fuel for homes and gas for snow machines and boats for subsistence use, and pay for training and education. The dividend must be something Alaskans can rely on, and it must be predictable, sustainable, and protected.

The only way to end the yearly battle over the dividend amount is for the governor and Legislature to work together, with input from Alaskans – without speaking in absolutes – and develop a durable, sustainable, and fair dividend formula for Alaska’s future. That could include amending the 40-year-old statutory formula, or a constitutional amendment.

What, if anything, needs to change about how candidates and elections are funded?

Bill Walker: There’s too much money in politics. We’re committed to restoring reasonable limits on how much candidates and groups can spend in the effort to influence the outcome of Alaska’s elections. House Bill 234, a proposal from Rep. Calvin Schrage that narrowly failed to pass earlier this year, provides a good starting point for work on this issue next year.

Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, what, if any, legal changes would you propose in Alaska with regard to access to abortion?

Bill Walker: A women’s right to choose has long been protected under the privacy rights afforded in the Alaska Constitution. I will veto any legislation that puts the government between a woman and her doctor. I will also oppose a constitutional convention and the threat it poses to the privacy rights we value, and I will not support a standalone constitutional amendment that threatens the right to privacy, like the one Mike Dunleavy is advocating.

What will you do as governor to address climate change?

Bill Walker: Alaska is at ground zero in the battle against climate change. We will re-establish the Climate Change Action Leadership Team we established, whose work was halted and the commission disbanded by the current administration, and we will work to implement the action plan created by that team to take significant state-level actions to combat climate change.

Climate change also brings opportunities for Alaska due to the magnitude of stored carbon in our forests and tundra. Our administration will look to innovative ways for the state to benefit economically while contributing meaningfully to global efforts to stem climate change.

What steps would you take to help restore depleted salmon populations and ensure salmon runs remain strong in Alaska?

Bill Walker: We will work to restore depleted salmon populations and ensure strong and sustainable fisheries across Alaska in three main ways:

1. Bycatch is a waste of good fish, and it’s happening at an unacceptable rate. Alaskans feel the impacts of salmon, halibut, crab, and herring bycatch – subsistence, commercial, personal use, and sport harvesters are all being harmed. The State of Alaska should be aggressive in funding science to seek and enact solutions. Short-term, we will appoint officials committed to bycatch solutions at the Department of Fish and Game, and we will appoint bycatch-focused Alaska members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, where many bycatch allocation decisions are made. Long-term, we will bring together stakeholders to identify and implement policies that will truly value one of our most precious resources here in Alaska – our fish.

2. There is no single reason behind the collapse of salmon runs, but one major contributing factor is climate change and associated ocean warming and acidification. We will invest in aggressive scientific research to get to the root of the problem and to identify any necessary actions for the State of Alaska to enact locally or support globally.

3. We will explore the possibility of expanding Alaska’s jurisdictional boundary from the current 3 miles offshore to 12 miles. Several Gulf Coast states have limits greater than 3 miles, and we will explore the pros and cons of such an expansion here in Alaska.

How will you facilitate inter-governmental relationships with Alaska’s 229 sovereign tribes?

Bill Walker: Alaska Native people and tribal governments have been responsible stewards of our state since time immemorial, yet the relationship between state and tribal leaders has been adversarial for too much of our history. Problems that could be resolved around a coffee table have instead ended up in a courtroom.

During my first term, I improved the relationship by building a foundation of mutual respect and trust. I issued a formal apology on behalf of the State of Alaska for historical injustices inflicted upon first peoples, such as the forced erasure of Native languages and the traumatic experiences many experienced at state-run boarding schools. I created the 11-member Governor’s Tribal Advisory Council so tribal leaders would have direct access to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and commissioners (all of whom received cultural sensitivity training) before policy decisions were made so everyone could provide input. We also designated a person in each department as a liaison to work directly with tribes. Finally, I entered into a compacting agreement between tribes and the state to create a partnership and improve outcomes in child welfare cases–a historic step in the direction of recognizing tribes as government-to-government peers.

In our next term, Heidi and I will work to identify additional opportunities for compacting agreements. As an example, in some locations, tribes are the local government and may hold the key to improving educational and public safety outcomes.

What will you do to improve child care access and affordability in Alaska?

Bill Walker: Childcare options are profoundly lacking in every community in Alaska. Heidi knows this first-hand, as her family struggled to find childcare for her daughter Olive and spent months on waitlists until a spot opened up. The struggle for parents is real, and we cannot have a functioning economy without high-quality, accessible, affordable childcare. There is no easy fix to this problem, but we cannot speak about family values unless we also put our money where our mouth is. The state should act as a conduit to solutions and be open to the possibility of increased state incentives for childcare businesses. This could mean loan funds, capital investments, or direct incentives.

We will form a Childcare Working Group to prepare policy recommendations in the first year of our administration, with four ideas on the table for review: 1. finding a way for communities, Tribes, and businesses to pay for childcare workers to receive state health insurance and benefits to help with recruitment and retention, 2. expanding availability of funding for direct childcare incentives throughout the state, 3. repurposing of vacant state facilities to host childcare services, and 4. establishing a Childcare Trust Fund to fund systematic approaches that create living wages, increase benefits, and create better training for businesses and workers to expand childcare access.

We will work with local governments to receive their local boots-on-the-ground input and wisdom on this critical issue.

How would you work with people who have different political viewpoints? Provide examples of how you have successfully done this in the past.

Bill Walker: It’s pretty simple–if you disagree with someone, you meet with them. When I came into office, I didn’t see eye to eye with House Speaker Mike Chenault. After a few months of us talking about each other in the media, I joined his team in the legislative bowling league. By bowling on the same team and having a few postgame beers at Taku Lanes, we found some common ground and became pretty good friends. We remain so to this day.

I didn’t agree with President Barack Obama on resource development issues in Alaska, but I found a way to fly to Alaska with him on Air Force One. Following our 7-hour flight during which we had plenty of time to converse, he announced on the ride from JBER to the Captain Cook Hotel that he would support offshore drilling in Alaska; he said that our discussion helped him understand that we do it better and safer here in Alaska and that we might as well use our own resources first while transitioning to renewable energy rather than relying on other countries for oil and gas.

I also flew on Air Force one with President Donald Trump. We don’t have the luxury of picking which team is in the White House–it’s the role of the governor to meet with whoever is in office and to advance the interests of Alaska. Leadership requires being willing and able to engage with and work with those you don’t necessarily agree with. Communicating only through litigation does not build the necessary relationships required to govern Alaska.

What other important issue would you like to discuss?

The high cost of energy remains a significant impediment to economic growth in Alaska. We have a plan to reduce Alaska’s cost of energy to $2 a gallon, something that is entirely achievable because of our vast oil reserves on the North Slope. Nothing would have a greater effect on our economy than low-cost energy.

Imagine an Alaska where all of our natural resources were processed and refined right here in Alaska rather than being shipped outside as raw materials, along with high-paying processing jobs. Imagine an Alaska with direct international flights with year-round tourism that attracts people from all over the world to enjoy winter’s spectacular northern lights in Alaska, just as millions of people do each winter in Iceland. Imagine an Alaska where every community had affordable housing. Imagine an Alaska that takes full advantage of the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Act that funded the much needed infrastructure to all areas of Alaska, like never before. These things are achievable with real leadership that’s rooted in a commitment to doing what’s best for Alaskans.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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